Cotton Mather begins his ecclesiastical history of New England with these words: "I write the wonders of the Christian religion, flying from the depravations of Europe to the American strand." Many writers besides, if they have not made use of equally grandiloquent phrase, have regarded the migration of the Puritans to these shores with a kindred interest, and have looked upon their work here as a most important contribution to religion and civilization. On the other hand, there have been not a few reviewers who have scarcely been able to mention Puritan New England without having recourse to the vocabulary of disparagement and invective. The explanation of these contrasted judgments is easily found. The sight has followed the inward bias, and that has been seen which was most sought after. Like a strong personality, in whom virtues and faults alike rise above mediocrity, New England in its early history exhibited diverse traits. Much that appears in the record a healthy mind must ever revere. At the same time some things come to view which a well-furnished and well-balanced mind can never admire. Probably the easiest way to dispose of the latter elements would be to charge them upon the age. But this would only divide, not eliminate, responsibility. He surely would be guilty of great boldness who should dare to affirm that the age ought not to have been better than it was. It remains, moreover, to show that the age provided nothing which could have helped the Puritans to correct their faults.
Developing the subject by topics, we will notice in the first place the church polity of the New England settlements.
The Plymouth colony represented the principles of separatism and independency. Its leaders taught the need of departing from the prelatical establishment of England, and assigned to the individual congregation the prerogative of self-rule. The separatism, however, which was represented at Plymouth was not of the most radical cast; it was rather the ameliorated form which was held by John Robinson in his later years. Softened by age and experience, this eminent teacher instructed the pilgrim company, as they were departing for America, to believe that "the Lord had more truth and light yet to break forth out of His Holy word."
1 H.M. Dexter concludes that a broader sense has sometimes been given to these words than was put into them by their author. He thinks they were designed to refer almost entirely, if not exclusively, to polity. (Congregationalism, as seen in its Literature, pp. 404-410.) While allowing tile justice of some limitation, we are disposed to think that it is carried farther than is necessary by Dr. Dexter. No doubt Robinson was satisfied with the Calvinistic doctrines and very ready to defend them in detail. Still, that in his premonition of coming light he consciously excluded doctrine, act believing that tile very acme of insight in that sphere had already been reached, we see no adequate reason to infer.In practical accord with the tolerance underlying this view, he allowed that protest against the errors of the English establishment need not necessarily be carried to the extreme of refusing altogether to bear the preaching and prayers of godly men in the ranks of its ministry. His position was thus defined by one of his disciples: "He was more rigid in his course and way at first than towards his latter end; for his study was peace and union so far as might agree with faith and a good conscience; and for schism and division, there was nothing in the world more hateful to him. But for the government of the Church of England, as it was in the Episcopal way, the liturgy and stinted prayers of the Church there, yea, the constitution of it as national, and so, consequently, the corrupt communion of the unworthy with the worthy receivers of the Lord's Supper, --these things were never approved of him, but witnessed against to his death, and are by the church over which he was, to this day." Edward Winslow, quoted by Dexter, p. 406.
In the colony of Massachusetts Bay the declared platform was, at the start, nonconformity rather than separatism. In other words, the Puritan emigrants to that quarter advocated not so much a substitute for the Church of England as a reform of certain obnoxious particulars in its ceremonies and administration. At their departure from England they felt free to speak of the Establishment in very friendly terms. Thus Francis Higginson, who came to Salem in 1629, remarked: "We will not say; as the Separatists were wont to say at their leaving, 'Farewell, Babylon! Farewell, Rome!' But we will say, 'Farewell, dear England! Farewell, the Church of God in England, and all the Christian friends there!' We do not go to New England as Separatists from the Church of England, though we cannot but separate from the corruptions in it; but we go to practise the positive pare of church reformation, and propagate the gospel in America." The sailing of Winthrop's company in the next year was preceded by a printed and published address, in which the emigrants spoke of the Church of England as their "dear mother," and declared that the sadness and tears from which they could not refrain on leaving their native country were due largely to the thought that that country was the place of her special residence. It is not necessary to question the sincerity of these expressions. The ordeal of severance from the homes of their childhood naturally called out whatever of underlying affection for England and its institutions existed in the hearts of the departing Puritans. At the same time, these expressions did not represent their whole thought or feeling. The ecclesiastical opinions which placed them at variance with the Establishment were tenaciously held, and a position of entire independence of its shackles was intrinsically agreeable to them. Hence we have the record that the churches of Massachusetts Bay proceeded from the first very much as though the Church of England had no existence. They stood practically on the basis of separatism, and there was not enough difference between their polity and that in vogue at Plymouth to occasion any controversy. ,The New England Puritans," says Governor Hutchinson, "when at full liberty, went the full length which the Separatists did in England. It does not follow that they would have done so if they had remained in England. Upon their removal they supposed their relation both to the civil and ecclesiastical government, except so far as a special reserve was made by their Charter, was at an end, and that they had right to form such new model of both as best pleased them. In the form of worship, they universally followed the New Plymouth Church." 1 History of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay, i. 418. The general model supplied by the older colonies was adopted in Connecticut and New Haven.
In the relation of the churches to each other the primitive New England scheme seems to have been substantially identical with that of later Congregationalism. But in the government of the individual church, the prevailing theory, if we may judge from statements in the oldest extant writings on the subject, had a decided spice of aristocracy. While the congregation elected the officers, it was not thought fitting that it should have any co-ordinate place with them in governing. "Our Fathers," says Dexter, "laid it down that the will of Christ, and not the will of the major or minor part of a church, ought to govern that church. But somebody must interpret that will. And they quietly assumed that Christ would reveal his will to the elders, but would not reveal it to the church members; so that when there arose a difference of opinion as to what the Master's will might be touching any particular matter, the judgment of the elders, rather than the judgment even of a majority of the membership, must be taken as conclusive." Congregationalism, as seen in its Literature, p. 429.
In association with the pastors (and teachers) the early churches had "ruling elders." As defined by the Cambridge synod of 1648, their work was "to join with the pastor and teacher in those acts of spiritual rule which are distinct from the ministry of the Word and sacraments committed to them." They were expected to take a large share in matters of discipline. The office was continued for a considerable interval; but experience finally led many to conclude that the duties of a ruling elder were not sufficiently diverse from those of a pastor to make it necessary to provide an extra official. At the beginning of the next century ruling elders had well-nigh vanished. "Partly through a prejudice against the office," wrote Cotton Mather, "and partly, indeed chiefly, through a penury of men well qualified for the discharge of it, as it has been heretofore understood and applied, our churches are now generally destitute of such helps in government."
1 Magnalia, ii. 206 (ed. 1820). As the so-called "teacher" was less remote in function from the pastor than the ruling elder, there was still less occasion to conserve the distinctive title and office.
The conditions of membership were sufficiently strict in the early times of the Puritan colonies. A few years after the settlement of Massachusetts Bay, it became customary in most churches for the candidate to give a narrative of his religious experience before the congregation; Since this was too crossing to some dispositions, it was provided in the Cambridge platform that those who shrank from the public ordeal could make their profession before the elders, and then in the presence of the congregation simply assent to the elders' report. 2 Magnalia,ii. 210. As the requisition for this order of examination implies, conversion was regarded as strictly necessary for membership. The Church was understood to be the household of the regenerate.
This view, in connection with the importance attached to baptism as a seal of the covenant, gave rise ere long to a practical difficulty. It was found that a considerable proportion of the second generation of colonists did not feel qualified to make such profession as was required for admission into the churches. In this way many children were left without any title to baptism. As this was felt to be a grievance, a movement originated, shortly after the middle of the century, first in Connecticut and then in the neighboring colonies, for obtaining a remedy. The result was the so-called "half-way covenant." At a synod held in Boston in 1662, it was decided that baptized persons who understood the grounds of religion, and were not scandalous in their lives, although they were not yet fit for full communion, ought to own the covenant, and that their children should then be counted eligible to baptism. Some of the most stanch and thoughtful of the ministers were opposed to so serious a relaxation in the conditions of membership. The measure, nevertheless, was carried by a large majority, and though a spirited opposition was kept up for a time, the practice of the churches gradually was conformed to the new and more indulgent standard. In some instances, concession was carried a step farther, and those who in their religious estate simply met the description of subjects of the half-way covenant were admitted to the Lord's Supper. Some conceived that there was abundant ground for making this practice general, since the Lord's Supper, so far from necessarily implying antecedent regeneration in the communicant, was designed to be a means of regeneration. Thus Solomon Stoddard argued in 1700. With this departure from the old strictness, there naturally ensued a change in the religious tone of the churches, as will be noticed subsequently.
While there was a movement to a lessened stringency in the administration of the individual church, an agitation began for strengthening the connectional system, or the authority of the general body over the single congregation. In Connecticut there resulted a species of compromise with Presbyterianism. It appears from the functions assigned to Associations and Consociations by the Saybrook Platform in 1708. In Massachusetts a similar scheme was proposed, but with a reverse result. The discussion which was provoked nurtured ultimately a firmer adherence to the congregational principle, the genuine Brownist doctrine that the individual church is not to be overruled by any extraneous authority, its proper independence, while consisting with advice, not allowing dictation or judicial determination from without. In securing this outcome, an important part was fulfilled by John Wise, a zealous advocate of a democratic constitution for both State and Church.
In the New England system there was no wide separation between the civil and the ecclesiastical domain. Church and State were very intimately associated. In two of the colonies the franchise could be reached only by admission into the Church. Massachusetts ordained in 1631 that no one should be admitted to the freedom of the body politic but such as were members of some of the churches in her jurisdiction. A like provision was adopted by New Haven. In Plymouth and Connecticut the conferring of the franchise was dependent upon the vote or recommendation of the body of freemen in the several towns. "But it may reasonably be believed that church membership was also in Plymouth and Connecticut much regarded by the electors as a qualification of candidates for citizenship" 1 Palfrey, History of New England. In Massachusetts the restriction was maintained with little practical abatement till the cancelling of the charter and the appointment of royal governors. It is true that an act was passed in 1664 allowing freeholders possessed of a certain amount of property, and recommended as orthodox and moral, to be eligible to the franchise, without being members of the churches. But, as Governor Hutchinson gives us to understand, the legal provision was not followed by any appreciable change in practice till the dissolution of the charter government and the introduction of royal governors. History of Massachusetts Bay, i. 26. In New Haven the restriction on the franchise continued till the incorporation of that colony with Connecticut.
The connection between Church and State was also illustrated in the matter of ministerial support. The principle of voluntary contributions was not entirely discarded; but the several colonies authorized the imposition of a general tax upon the people of a township, where the salary of the minister was not otherwise provided. In another way also those who were not members were required to acknowledge their obligations to the Church, in that they were subject to fine for non-attendance upon the appointed services.
If to the above we add, that the magistrates were expected to show a vigorous determination to realize the Biblical model, and to restrain and punish all outward acts contrary to the Word of the Lord, we have about the whole ground and occasion for styling the Puritan rule in New England a theocracy. The priestly and prophetical claims which sometimes are associated with that name had no place in the Puritan scheme. A would-be prophet, or medium of divine revelation, was looked upon with great disfavor. The written Word, interpreted by the ordinary faculties with which pious men are endowed, was made the standard. No one, no class, was understood to have a monopoly of interpretation, and theological discussion was a very common engagement in all ranks and circles. The ministers in their theoretical position were but the first among brethren. Nevertheless, it is to be conceded that they exerted a more than average influence upon public affairs. The general anxiety to follow Scriptural precedents tended to increase the measure of consultation with them, since they were deemed to be specially versed in the teachings of the Bible. As a class, too, the early New England ministers were well fitted to command respect and deference. A large proportion of them had been educated in the English universities. Some of them, both in character and talents, may be accounted men of eminence and distinction. The impression made by John Cotton and Thomas Hooker, the one connected with Boston, and the other with the founding and early history of the Connecticut colony, is no mean tribute to their worth. A contemporary and co-laborer of the former has left this report of his ministrations: "Mr. Cotton preaches with such authority, demonstration, and life, that methinks, when he preaches out of any prophet or apostle, I hear not him, I hear that very prophet and apostle; yea, I hear the Lord Jesus Christ Himself speaking in my heart." His writings indicate self-control and moderation of spirit, and the same traits are said to have been reflected in his life. Once a censorious brother told him that his ministry was become generally either dark or flat. The quiet answer was: "Both, brother, it may be both. Let me have your prayers that it may be otherwise." But, if in temper he was a Melanchthon, in theology he had the genuine Puritan appetite for Calvin. "'I have read the fathers,' said he, 'and the schoolmen, and Calvin too; but I find that he that has Calvin has them all;' and being asked why in his latter days he indulged nocturnal studies more than formerly, he replied, 'Because I love to sweeten my mouth with a piece of Calvin before I go to sleep.'" 1 Cotton Mather, Magnalia, i. 250. In pulpit talent Hooker probably took precedence of Cotton. Combining great vigor of spirit with a commanding presence, and selecting ordinarily the practical themes of the gospel, he preached with marked power and effect. One who observed his energy and straight-forwardness in his ministry declared of him: "He was a person who, while doing his Master's work, would put a king in his pocket." 2 Magnalia, i. 313. Aside from his reputation as a minister, Hooker is justly reckoned among the eminent forerunners and exponents of democratic principles. In a sermon which he preached before the General Court of Connecticut in 1638 he gave as clear an assertion of the proper sovereignty of the people as can be found in our annals.
3 The following were his main propositions: "The foundation of authority is laid, firstly, in the free consent of the people. . . . The choice of public magistrates belongs unto the people, by God's own allowance . . . . They who have power to appoint officers and magistrates, it is in their power also to set the bounds and limitations of the power and piece unto which they call them." (J.H. Trumbull, Historical Notes on the Constitutions of Connecticut, pp. 6, 7.)
From considering the connection between Church and State, we naturally pass to the most somber phase of New England history, the persecution of dissent; since this connection was undoubtedly among the occasions of that persecution. On this theme, we have to deal mainly with Massachusetts. The other Puritan colonies, whatever may have been their maxims, made no conspicuous record for intolerance. Not one of them persecuted any religious party more than Virginia persecuted the Baptists, or New York, the Quakers.
In palliation of the scant charity which Massachusetts exhibited toward uncongenial immigrants, it has been said that the colony, being planted in the midst of a boundless expanse of unoccupied country, considered it entirely right and humane to practise a certain exclusiveness, regarding the land included in their patent as pre-empted territory; just as was done, for example, during a long period, by the Hudson Bay Company with their extensive tract. Those who were not prepared to harmonize with the system which the colony had chosen to establish might properly, as they conceived, be advised to make their home elsewhere. This plea has, without doubt, a foundation in fact. But it does not express the whole motive and animus of the persecution. When we find such a man as Winthrop hinting that the massacre of three hundred Virginians by the Indians was a providential infliction which they had earned by refusing to entertain the ministers sent from Boston, 1 Winthrop's History of New England, ii. 198. it becomes apparent that the Massachusetts Puritans regarded their system as entitled to a right of way outside of their special jurisdiction. They claimed an exclusiveness for themselves which they were not ready to justify in others. As against all prelatical systems on the one hand and all liberalism on the other, they believed that they had the truth of God, and were but manifesting a righteous zeal in defending it, if need be, by the indiction of pains and penalties. An excess of confidence as respects knowing the mind of the Lord, which was a characteristic infirmity of Puritanism in England, distempered not a little the tone of Puritan thought and administration on this side of the Atlantic. Political expediency, or the harmony and stability of the State, was indeed a motive in the persecutions, but with this was blended a somewhat bigoted sense of a vocation to defend and avenge divine truths.
1 Something like an index of the dogmatic confidence which prevailed may be seen in the following extract from the Massachusetts law-book printed in 1672: "Although no human power be lord over the faith and consciences of men, yet because such as bring in damnable heresies, tending to the subversion of the Christian faith, and destruction of the souls of men, ought duly to be restrained from such notorious impieties; it is therefore ordered and declared by the Court, that if any Christian within this jurisdiction shall go about to subvert and destroy the Christian faith and religion, by broaching and maintaining any damnable heresies; as denying the immortality of the soul, or resurrection of the body, or any sin to be repented of in the regenerate, or any evil done by the outward man to be accounted sin, or denying that Christ gave Himself a ransom for our sins, or shall affirm that we are not justified by His death and righteousness, but by the perfection of our own works, or shall deny the morality of the fourth commandment, or shall openly condemn or oppose the baptizing of infants, or shall purposely depart the congregation at the administration of that ordinance, or shall deny the ordinance of magistracy, or their lawful authority to make war, or to punish the outward breaches of the first table, or shall endeavor to seduce others to any of the errors and heresies mentioned; every such person continuing obstinate therein, after due means of conviction, shall be sentenced to banishment." (Quoted by Isaac Backus, History of New England, i. 321-322.)
In the first prominent instance of procedure against dissent in Massachusetts the political motive was dominant. While the banishment of Roger Williams helped to bring him forward as an apostle of religious tolerance, he was not banished because he was an apostle of religious tolerance, or because of any specific religious tenet.
1 Among his special theses while in Massachusetts, we have not seen any which involved the question of tolerance, unless it was this, namely, that the magistrate ought not to punish transgressions of the first table of the decalogue. But this was only one of several points which provoked censure, and aside from it the General Court had, in its view, adequate cause for sentence of banishment.His impracticable individualism, leading him into opposition to State and Church, until his party was reduced well-nigh to his single self, sent him into exile. Immediately after his arrival (1631) he created a prejudice by refusing to join with the congregation at Boston, because they would not make public profession of repentance for having communed with the Church of England while they were in that country. Later he wrote against the Massachusetts patent, challenging the right of the colonists to the land under the King's grant, since the King had transcended his just prerogatives in making the grant. He called in question also the act of the colony in requiring an oath from residence, maintaining that the exacting of an oath from an unregenerate person involves the sin of using God's name in vain. Finally, taking offense because the General Court -- in order to punish the Salem church, over which he presided, for adhering to him while under censure--denied a request of the town for a piece of land, he exhorted his church to withdraw from communion with the churches of the Bay, and declared that he would not commune with it unless his request was complied with. Soon after this he was sentenced, on the ground of the aforesaid acts to depart out of the colony (1635).
The singularity of Williams which occasioned his exile seems not to have been immediately eliminated by that ordeal. At Providence, having concluded that he ought to he a Baptist, he procured immersion from one of his companions, to whom, as also to a few others, he then imparted the rite; thus laying the foundation of the first Baptist church in America. But in a few months he became convinced of the nullity of his baptism, and doubting about any known church having the true apostolic succession, concluded thereafter to be a Christian entirely on his own account. 1 see Winthrop, History of New England, vol. i; H. M. Dexter, As to Roger Williams; Palfrey, History of New England, vol, i. chap x.
Thus far we have a record of eccentricity. But in Roger Williams there was something much better than mere eccentricity. With all his disputatiousness he bore a large and generous heart. Be harbored no bitterness against Massachusetts on account of his banishment. For forty years thereafter, as Hutchinson remarks, he was repeatedly employed in acts of kindness and benevolence toward the colony which ejected him. This was his only revenge, except the master strokes which he dealt against religious persecution in his writings. No later writer has transcended his position on the subject of tolerance, for he reached here the very acme of radicalism. In his treatise entitled "The Bloody Tenet of Persecution for Cause of Conscience" he lays down this sweeping proposition: "It is the will and command of God that, since the coming of His Son the Lord Jesus, a permission of the most Paganish, -Jewish, Turkish, or anti-Christian consciences and worships be granted to all men in all nations and countries; and they are only to be fought against with that sword which is only, in soul matters, able to conquer: to wit, the sword of God's spirit, the Word of God." To the defence of this and like theses he brought a spice of genius as well as a mighty earnestness. Accordingly, John Cotton, who attempted to wash the "bloody tenet," had a very indifferent success in the face of Williams' arguments. As the Boston preacher was not willing openly to concede that force has any place in dealing with men's religious convictions, he resorted to that muffled plea for intolerance toward heresy which may be discerned in the Westminster Confession. While allowing that conscience is to be respected, he maintained that in fundamentals God's Word is so clear that the errorist in this field must be made to see the truth after faithful admonition. Consequently, if he still persists in asserting errors, he acts against his own conscience, and in undergoing punishment he suffers, not for the sake of conscience, but as a violator of conscience. If John Cotton had stood alone in this representation, it would be counted a strange thing that he should hare fancied that the admonition of one man or one party must of necessity conquer the intellect of another man or another party.
Close upon the banishment of Roger Williams followed the episode which passes in history as the "Antinomian Controversy." It was a dispute threatening to be more serious in its consequences than the foregoing, since it divided the most prominent men in the colony and roused intense animosities. On the one side were the talented woman Mrs. Ann Hutchinson, her brother-in-law Wheelwright, almost the entire church in Boston, together with its eminent preacher, John Cotton. This party was also supported by the young Henry Vane, who served a term as governor, but left the country shortly before the issue of the strife. On the other side were Winthrop, the minister Wilson, and the general body of clergy and people outside of Boston. This party remained uncompromising in its opposition to the tenets of Mrs. Hutchinson. As for John Cotton, after taking the part of a moderate adherent of the Hutchinson party, he finally receded, alleging that the partisans of that side had deceived him by presenting the fairer aspects of their teaching and concealing its more radical phases.
The dogmatic ground of the controversy is thus given by Winthrop, in his first reference to the subject: "One Mrs. Hutchinson, a member of the church of Boston, a woman of ready wit and bold spirit, brought over with her two dangerous errors: first, that the person of the Holy Ghost dwells in a justified person; second, that no sanctification can help to evidence to us our justification." History of New England, i. 239 (ed. 1853). Of these two propositions the second commanded the chief attention, and may be styled the core of the dispute. In the view of its advocates, the one evidence of justification is an immediate divine assurance, the testimony of the Holy Spirit to the believing heart. He who combines with this any reference to gracious dispositions or works falls below the evangelical stand-point, and descends to the plane of legality.
The theory involved a one-sided subjectivity. By the small stress that it placed upon the ethical test which is afforded in dispositions and works, it gave too free a scope to personal fancies and impressions. It was not out of accord with her principal doctrine that Mrs. Hutchinson should claim to have been the recipient of special revelations. But these implications were not the sole ground of complaint. The more forward among the Boston enthusiasts stigmatized their opponents as legalists, and discriminated against the ministers of that party as preaching a covenant of works. Mrs. Hutchinson herself had the uncharitable boldness to leave the church when Wilson rose to preach.
Here surely was a disagreeable and alarming state of affairs. Superior discretion and charity might have overcome the difficulties. But there was little of the latter, and no excess of the former. The rude expedient of force was therefore invoked. Soon after the restoration of Winthrop to the office of governor in place of Vane, the prosecution of the disturbing faction was urged forward with vigor, and in part with harshness and arbitrariness. Wheelwright, Mrs. Hutchinson, and Aspinwall were banished (1637), and a considerable number of their party were subjected to a minor punishment.
Less than a decade after the Antinomian spectre had been vanquished, the Massachusetts Puritans felt that they were confronted by another evil shape. The General Court, in 1644, after characterizing the Anabaptists as the incendiaries of commonwealths and the troublers of churches in all places which they had invaded, proceeded to denounce the penalty of banishment against any person who should openly oppose infant baptism or seduce others to disapprove of the rite.
A rhetorical element may be discerned in the language of the Court. It is hardly probable that the Massachusetts legislators were pervaded by quite so great a horror of Anabaptist heresy as the preamble of their act would indicate. Cotton Mather says that among the planters of New England there were some from the beginning who held in a quiet way the Anabaptist theory. 1 Magnalis, ii. 459. No less a person than Henry Dunster, president of Harvard (1640-1654), did not believe in the propriety of infant baptism, and he might have retained his position in spite of his known views, had he not made it a matter of conscience to give public expression to his scruples. His successor, Charles Chauncy, so far espoused Baptist teaching as to regard immersion the only proper form, though he did not challenge infant baptism. It is to be concluded, therefore, that, unless there was an unusual degree of panic in 1644, the law-makers of that date could not have felt that there was any serious danger of a Münster tragedy being enacted in their midst. Nevertheless they may be credited with a real dread of the intrusion of Anabaptist, or -- as we may properly say in this connection --Baptist teaching.
In 1651 a practical token of resentment against Baptist innovators was given through the arrest and fining of Clarke, Crandall, and Holmes, who took occasion to prophesy in Massachusetts, while on a visit there from Rhode Island. Of the three, Holmes, as he would not pay the fine or accept money for its payment, was subjected to flogging. Sympathy with these sufferers has been abridged on the part of some writers, in consequence of the suspicion that they came on purpose to provide a case of persecution which might be of service in a special exigency of Rhode Island politics. 1 H. M. Dexter, As to Roger Williams, pp. 119, 128; Palfrey, History of New England, ii. 350. Naturally this interpretation of the subject is opposed by Baptist writers, and in truth the grounds alleged for it are rather plausible than conclusive. Some fourteen or fifteen years after the arrest of Clarke and his companions a Baptist congregation which had been gathered at Charlestown was molested, and some of its members were temporarily imprisoned. In 1680 a Boston society was inhibited from meeting in the house of worship which they had constructed, until the authorities should grant license. But meanwhile the party cherishing a tolerant regard for the Baptists, which had existed from the first, increased in numbers. A significant token of progress toward a better feeling was given in 1718, when Increase Mather, and his son Cotton Mather, who held a leading place among the Massachusetts clergy, consented to take part in the installation of a Baptist pastor. Still the old Congregational order held legally a preferred place, and the endeavor to guard its privileges caused still some local inconvenience to Baptists as well as to other classes of Gentiles. 1 It was not till 1833 that discrimination in favor of the "Standing Order" was effaced from the laws of Massachusetts.
That persecution in Massachusetts should have reached its acme in relation to the Quakers is explained by two facts. In the first place they bore an evil name. They were regarded in England, at the middle of the seventeenth century, as wild and fanatical disturbers. Lovers of ecclesiastical order looked upon them very much as lovers of civil order now regard the most boisterous and intemperate anarchists, only in many cases with a greater apprehension of mischief. In the second place, they were the most resolute and stubborn witnesses for what they regarded as the truth. The fact that they were not wanted in a particular place, they interpreted as meaning that they were needed there; and the less they were wanted, the greater they felt was the need of their presence, that a proper testimony might be raised against sin. Massachusetts, therefore, in attempting to bar them out, invited them to press in at any cost.
The first instalment of the Quaker witnesses arrived in 1656, in the persons of two women, less than a month after the General Court had announced as one purpose of the appointed fast day, "to seek the face of God in behalf of our native country in reference to the abounding errors, especially those of Ranters, Quakers, etc." With all possible speed these forerunners were sent away. Laws were then passed for the imprisonment and bodily chastisement of any Quakers who should enter the jurisdiction, for the fining of shipmasters who should bring them in, as also of those who should circulate any of their books or defend their opinions. As the dreaded visitors were not kept out by these means, severer measures were adopted, it being ordered that any Quaker who should presume to come into the jurisdiction after having been punished should suffer the loss of an ear for the first offense; for a second, the loss of the other; and for a third, have the tongue bored through with a hot iron. Finally, in 1658 the acme of legal severity was reached in the enactment that Quakers who should return after being twice banished, should be liable to the death sentence. This law, it should be observed in justice, was not popular. It was passed with difficulty, and indeed was rejected by the house of deputies when first presented. Those who voted for it did not do so as coveting the actual infliction of the extreme penalty. No one wanted the blood of the Quakers. The law was meant to serve in terrorem, and there was probably no serious apprehension that it would be dared to the death. But this conclusion was based on no proper measurement of the Quaker enthusiasm for testifying. Rather than yield the field to such a statute, there were those in the sect who would not accept deliverance. The result was that four Quakers were hanged (1659, 1660). Others made themselves liable to the same punishment. But popular sentiment revolted against further sacrifice, and the magistrates were obliged to fall back upon a less stringent policy. During the few subsequent years that the persecution continued, whipping at the cart's tail was the maximum infliction.
It has sometimes been supposed that the efficient cause of the lessened severity toward the Quakers was the order of Charles II. that those under arrest should be sent to England for their trial. But nearly a year before the promulgation of the royal order there had been a general jail delivery, by which thirty-one Quakers including three under death sentence had been set free, on condition of departing from the colony. Causes within the community, therefore, rather than royal interference, seem mainly to have wrought the change. It is to be observed also that the King's patronage of the Quakers was of a very limited kind, his first communication being pretty thoroughly offset by the second. In 1662, responding to representations from Massachusetts, he wrote: "We cannot be understood hereby to direct or wish that any indulgence should be granted to those persons commonly called Quakers, whose principles being inconsistent with any kind of government, we have found it necessary, by the advice of our parliament here, to make sharp laws against them, and are well contented that you do the like there." From first to last the sharp laws of England, if they did not directly enjoin capital inflictions, were instrumental in destroying scores of Quakers (through the miseries of imprisonment) where Massachusetts sent one to the scaffold.
This completes the record of intolerance, so far as conspicuous instances are concerned. The tragedy which was enacted at Salem Village in 1692 falls rather under the category of superstitious panic than of religious persecution. It was a piece of the most wretched and monstrous foolery which has darkened the annals of Christian nations, --a very small piece when compared with the kindred triumphs of the witchcraft delusion in the European countries, but relatively large in the history of the English colonies. The proximate occasion of the epidemic of terror and outrage seems to have been nothing more serious than a distempered search for diversion, on the part of a group of girls, who for a number of weeks employed their evenings in dabbling with fortune-telling and magic. In virtue of their practice they became adepts in certain strange performances. as these came to the notice of their elders, instead of chastising them into sobriety, as was becoming, they helped to turn their heads and the heads of the community by declaring them bewitched. Urged to name those who used the power of the devil upon them and afflicted them with spectral appearances, they accused two or three. These accusations led to others. In all cases the charges were confirmed by the astounding experiences which the bewitched, probably blending art and distraction together, exhibited in the presence of the judges. For those once accused there was absolutely no means of escape. The chief justice having laid down the principle that the devil could not simulate the form of an innocent person, the testimony of those playing the ro1e of the bewitched that they were tormented by the spectre of a certain person at once involved the conclusion that that person was in league with the Evil One, a veritable witch. To be cited was the same as to be found guilty; and, as the matter was conducted, a condemned person could escape the halter only by acknowledging the truth of the terrible charge. Accordingly the bravest and most steadfast in their integrity were just the ones to undergo the extreme penalty. Some of these nobly invited their fate by venturing to testify against the craze. Under the conditions this act was the next thing to a death-warrant, since it was almost certain to expose them to accusation. Twenty were executed. The company of the accused probably amounted to no less than ten times that number; and there is no telling what aggregate would have been reached, had not the gang of accusers finally passed the bounds of public credulity by assailing persons whom, in consideration of their rank and reputation, very few were willing to account guilty. In this way the spell was broken. Infatuation was succeeded quite generally by a sickening sense of a terrible mistake. A deadly superstition had well-nigh destroyed itself by its own excesses. 1 See Charles W. Upham, Salem Witchcraft, 1867.
A supplementary picture belongs with that which has been presented in the last few pages. If Puritan New England earned the charge of a certain rigor and intolerance, it should also be credited with having provided an antidote to its own fault. Its intolerance was not that of an inert community hating everything interfering with its slumberous ease. It was rather the intolerance of a community energetically striving after an ideal, and resentful toward objects which seemed to obstruct the way. Mental sloth was no part of the scheme of the New England Puritans. They fostered education as a chief foundation of public prosperity, and gave no slight emphasis to the truth that religion is essentially a relation between the individual and God. They thus provided for an intellectual progress which could not be hemmed in by tradition, for free thought, for manly independence, for the love and the faculty of a generous liberty. From no other field of equal extent has there come a larger body of stanch advocates of the essential rights of men.
As we pass from the seventeenth century we open a new chapter in the ecclesiastical history of New England. The strained endeavor after an austere ideal is not so characteristic a feature as formerly. Through the enlarged doorway provided by the half-way covenant many had found an entrance into the churches who were not disposed to make religion the chief concern of life. The inroads of a contagious worldliness and spiritual sloth became more and more apparent. Doubtless the religious state of the Puritan colonies was not worse than that of other portions of the English-speaking world in that era. On the contrary, it was better. No such leaden sky hung over their spiritual landscape as darkened the face of England in the first half of the eighteenth century. Neither the infidelity of the higher ranks in the mother country nor the brutal insensibility of a large section of the lower classes found any conspicuous counterpart in New England. Nevertheless, religion had assumed here too much the cast of an inefficient respectability, and the gospel, as a transforming power over heart and life, was not holding its own against the world. The small pains taken to exclude from the ranks of the ministry those who did not give evidence of conversion, or a vital sense of divine things, tended to increase and to prolong religious dullness.
Whitefield and his American coadjutor, Gilbert Tennent, were very pronounced in their animadversions upon the prevalence of unconverted ministers. A well-informed writer remarks "The number of unconverted ministers was probably fewer than these men supposed, especially in New England. Still it is useless to deny their existence. When the colleges received young men without even the appearance of piety to prepare for the ministry; when, if graduates were found to possess competent knowledge, and were neither heretical nor scandalous, their piety was taken for granted, and they were ordained of course; when the doctrine that unconverted ministers, though orthodox in doctrine and regular in their lives, were 'the bane of the church,' gave offense, we may be sure that unconverted ministers existed." (Joseph Tracy, The Great Awakening, p. 393.)
A corrective, however, was provided in the third generation from the introduction of the half-way covenant. By a remarkable awakening a new current was brought into the spiritual atmosphere. The revival began at Northampton, under the labors of Jonathan Edwards, near the end of the year 1734. For a considerable interval the movement progressed amid tokens of deep interest, and radical transformations. To use the language of Edwards: "Souls did, as it were, come by flocks to Jesus Christ. From day to day, for many months together, might he seen evident instances of sinners brought out of darkness into marvelous light. ... There were remarkable tokens of God's presence in almost every house. It was a time of joy in families on account of salvation being brought unto them; parents rejoicing over their children as new born, and husbands over their wives, and wives over their husbands. The goings of God were then seen in His sanctuary. God's day was a delight, and His tabernacles were amiable. Our public assemblies were then beautiful; the congregation was alive in God's service, every one earnestly intent on the public worship, every hearer eager to drink in the words of the minister as they came from his mouth; the assembly in general were, from time to time, in tears while the Word was preached,-some weeping with sorrow and distress, others with joy and love, others with pity and concern for the souls of their neighbors." A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God, Works, i. 348 (ed. 1840).
The revival extended to South Hadley, Northfield, Coventry, Windsor, Stratford, and many other towns within or upon the borders of the Connecticut valley.
While this work was still fresh in the memory of the people it was followed and overlapped by another, of wider compass. The marvelous preaching of Whitefield gave here the initial impetus. Landing at Newport in September, 1740, the restless evangelist in the space of a few weeks had journeyed through the most populous towns and caused his voice to be heard by no small proportion of the inhabitants of New England. His audience was often composed of many thousands. At his farewell sermon on Boston common, if the report of an eye-witness may be trusted, not less than twenty-three thousand were present. The same correspondent adds: "Such a power and presence of God with a preacher, and in religious assemblies, I never saw before, and am ready to fear I shall never see again. The prejudices of many are quite conquered, and the expectations of others vastly outdone, as they freely own. A considerable number are awakened, and many Christians seem to be greatly quickened. In this town whoever goes to lessen Mr. Whitefield's reputation is in danger of losing his own." As might be judged from this testimony, Whitefield received a cordial welcome at his first visit, and was but little troubled by the voice of the critic. On his own part, he seems to have gained a favorable impression of the country. We find him noting the absence of scoffing, and the seemliness of the outward behavior with which he was met. As he was leaving the region he rendered this general estimate: "I have now had an opportunity of seeing the greatest and most populous part of New England. On many accounts, it certainly exceeds all other provinces of America; and for the establishment of religion, perhaps all other parts of the world." 1 Quoted by Tyerman, Life of Whitefield, i. 430.
Notwithstanding the enthusiasm with which Whitefield was received, there was a latent opposition to his work. To the sticklers for ecclesiastical order the very notion of an itinerant evangelism was obnoxious. It seemed to them a disrupting agency, a menace of schism and sectarianism. The methods of Whitefield were essentially distasteful to them. And this was not all. It was a special infirmity of the devoted evangelist that he was given to a somewhat headlong censorship. He atoned for his fault, indeed, by a very frank and humble retraction when convinced of being in the wrong. Still his sharp strictures left their wound. We have therefore an explanation of the rise of an opposition party, a party which criticised the revival in general, and Whitefield in particular. During his second visit (1744-45), he had occasion to notice that there were open antagonists in the field.
2 The faculties of Harvard and Yale thought it incumbent on themselves to make their protest against the tactics of Whitefield. One of the most determined and able among the leaders of the opposition was the Boston minister, Charles Chauncy.This division in the ranks, however, did not prevent the revival from extending to remarkable limits. It left an impress upon a hundred and fifty towns, and brought into the churches, within the space of a few years, from twenty-five to fifty thousand converts, besides raising many already in the churches from the formalities to the life of religion.
It was not without a durable significance that the man of largest intellectual gift in New England was a prominent agent in the beginning of the revival, and its champion throughout. This unique fact tended to secure a right of way to earnest heart piety, to reduce ecclesiastical order to the rank of a subordinate interest, to make the idea of an unconverted ministry intolerable, and to place such an emphasis upon the requirement of conversion in the members as to banish the half-way covenant. The revival by itself would doubtless have worked toward these results. But the fact that the man of highest reputation as a theological thinker threw the weight of his arguments and influence on the side of such ends was obviously a very considerable contribution to their realization. Jonathan Edwards must be ranked among those who wrought efficiently toward the type of religion and religious method which is largely prevalent in the evangelical communions of this country.
In our view this aspect in the work of Edwards is not less important than any other. His service to religion takes precedence of his service to theology. In the latter field he showed, it must be allowed, uncommon subtlety and metaphysical ability. But he was bound by his presuppositions. His thorough committal to a scheme of absolute sovereignty and predestination forced him into one-sided results. He was led thereby to involve the human will in an inextricable chain of necessity, and could find no place for responsibility except by arbitrarily replacing the natural sense of the term with another meaning. In his endeavor to make the race sharers in the guilt of Adam he depleted the notion of moral personality, and sustained a theory which might properly be regarded as an aggravation of the antique subordination of the individual to the mass. Views akin to these had already been advocated vastly beyond their merits, and it was no salutary vocation that Edwards fulfilled in giving them his support. There was, however, even in his theological activity a compensating element. His freshness and vigor gave a powerful stimulus to thought. An intellectual movement was started which could not be inclosed by traditional lines. While some of his successors, notably Samuel Hopkins and Nathaniel Emmons, brought out as ultra statements on the all-dominating sovereignty of God as were ever written, a tendency toward more moderate views also made its appearance, insomuch that the later New England theology, in many of its representatives, has made distinct approaches to evangelical Arminianism. External influences may indeed be credited in part with this result, but it is reasonable to regard it also as due in part to an interior development. Still, while giving place to this ameliorating consideration, it is with a certain complacency that we leave the theologian to view the saint, the champion of dogmas to regard the advocate of the interior life of communion with God. A serene region presents itself here, upon which the awful shadow of the reverse aide of predestination does not appear to have cast either chill or gloom.
In religious sensibility, or the element of deep and fervent emotion, Jonathan Edwards ranks with the Wesleys and the foremost in the list of the mystics. Those who think of him simply as a logician see the prosaic, and overlook the poetic, side of the man. "Besides his logic," it has been well said, "there was his strong and realizing faith. God, heaven, hell, the sinfulness of sin, the beauty of holiness, the glory of Christ, and the claims of the gospel were as substantial realities to his mind and heart as the valley of the Connecticut or the mountains of Berkshire." 1 Tracy, The Great Awakening, p. 214. At times he was transported into a species of ecstasy by his contemplation of divine verities. In his personal narrative we find testimonies like these: "Sometimes, only mentioning a single word caused my heart to burn within me, or only seeing the name of Christ, or the name of some attribute of God. ... The sweetest joys and delights I have experienced have not been those that have arisen from a hope of my own good estate, but in a direct view of the glorious thing of the gospel. When I enjoy this sweetness it seems to carry me above thoughts of my own estate; it seems at such times a loss that I cannot bear, to take off my eye from the glorious, pleasant object I behold without me, to turn my eye in upon myself, and my own good estate. ... Once, as I rode out into the woods for my health, in 1737, having alighted from my horse in a retired place, as my manner commonly has been, to walk for divine contemplation and prayer, I had a view that for me was extraordinary, of the glory of the Son of God, as mediator between God and man, and His wonderful, great, full, pure, and sweet grace and love, and meek and gentle condescension. This grace, that appeared so calm and sweet, appeared also great above the heavens. The person of Christ appeared ineffably excellent, with an excellency great enough to swallow up all thought and conception, -- which continued, as near as I can judge, about an hour; which kept me the greater part of the time in a hood of tears and weeping aloud. I felt an ardency of soul to be, what I know not otherwise how to express, emptied and annihilated; to lie in the dust, and to be full of Christ alone; to love Him with a holy and pure love; to trust in Him; to live upon Him; to serve and follow Him; and to be perfectly sanctified and made pure, with a divine and heavenly purity. I have several other times had views very much of the same nature, and which have had the same effects."
In writing upon the "Religious Affections," therefore, Edwards was dealing with a congenial theme. As might be expected, he strongly asserts in this able treatise the high worth of the affections in the sphere of religion. "It is evident," he says, "that religion consists so much in the affections as that without holy affection there is no true religion. No light in the understanding is good which does not produce holy affection in the heart; no habit or principle in the heart is good which has no such exercise; and no external fruit is good which does not proceed from such exercises. ... Where there is a kind of light without heat, a head stored with notions and speculations with a cold and unaffected heart, there can be nothing divine in that light; that knowledge is no true spiritual knowledge of divine things. If the great things of religion are rightly understood they will affect the heart. ... The manner of slighting all religious affections is the way exceedingly to harden the hearts of men, to encourage them in their stupidity and senselessness, to keep them in a state of spiritual death as long as they live."
While thus emphasizing emotion as a necessary constituent of genuine religion, Edwards seeks to guard against a distempered subjectivity. A11 impressions which have not an immediate ethical significance, which are not inseparably connected with a positive principle of holiness and spirituality, he reckons of very small account. So far does he disparage mere impressions or inward suggestions, as compared with a spiritual disposition, that he declines to make the former any factor in the assurance of the believer. Not a sentence in the understanding, but the birth of a gracious temper in the heart, or the outflow of the heart in filial trust and love, attests acceptance with God. "The witness of the Spirit of which the apostle speaks," he says, "is far from being any whisper, or immediate suggestion; but is that gracious, holy effect of the Spirit of God in the hearts of the saints, the disposition and temper of children, appearing in sweet, child-like love to God, which casts out fear. ... The strong and lively exercises of evangelical, humble love to God give clear evidence of the soul's relation to God as His child; which very greatly and directly satisfies the soul. ... Lore, the bond of union, is seen intuitively; the saint sees and feels plainly the union between his soul and God." In addition to this stress upon a dominant ethical temper, Edwards provides a safeguard against subjective vagaries in the way in which he links religious emotions with the understanding. He finds a principal fountain of these emotions in the contemplation of the beauty and majesty of divine verities. This is their proper objective ground, as a divinely wrought inward sensibility is their subjective spring.
In the mind of Edwards, ecclesiasticism was at a minimum. God was to him all in all. Piety meant the special presence and agency of God in the soul. Whatever place he may have given to the legal conception of God's relation to men in one part of his system, when his thought was directed to religious experience he dwelt emphatically upon the divine immanence and indwelling. Herein he furnished a bond of fellowship with eminent minds in succeeding times, who have been far from accepting some of the somber phases of his teaching.
We have passed over the outward life of this most celebrated of the colonial divines. It makes, in fact, but a brief story. He was born in 1703, entered Yale College at thirteen, served there as tutor for two years (1724-1726), and was settled over the church at Northampton in 1727. After his dismission from Northampton in 1750, occasioned by his insistence upon strict terms of communion, he served as missionary in Stockbridge, preaching both to the Indians and the white congregation in that town. His death occurred in 1758, very soon after he had entered upon the presidency of Princeton College.
The wife of Edwards was his equal in religious sensibility and devotion. It was therefore with great fitness that he dictated to her, from his death-bed in Princeton, this message: "Tell her that the uncommon union which has so long subsisted between us has been of such a nature as I trust is spiritual, and therefore will continue forever."